Water Water – episode fifty nine

[start at episode one]

Out to lunch

coffee-2416432__340[1]Mrs Patterson was still sleeping in the other bedroom when Laura trotted happily into the kitchen. Today she was going outside, and she felt like a bird about to be released from a cage. She told herself not to get over-excited, it had been less than a fortnight and a fancy show flat was hardly Strangeways, but nevertheless she was delighted.

 Looking forward to lunch with Rani meant she’d stopped worrying about what might lay ahead, for a few hours at least. She’d had the best night’s sleep since she’d arrived in the flat, apart from the first night that is, and she certainly wasn’t going to spoil her day by thinking about that.

 Laura left it until after half past nine to knock on Mrs Patterson’s door. It was unusual for her to stay in bed after eight, and Laura wondered if she might be ill. Perhaps she too was feeling the effects of being cooped up, but she stirred when the door was pushed open and sat herself up with some effort.

 Laura noticed how small and frail she seemed in the big double bed. It was the first time she had really thought of Mrs Patterson as old, when of course she was in her eighties.

 “It’s almost ten. Can I get you a cup of tea?”

 “Ten? It can’t be – you should have wakened me sooner Laura, I’m so embarrassed to have slept so late. Tea would be lovely, thank you.”

 By the time Laura returned with the steaming mug Mrs Patterson looked much more her usual self, propped up contentedly on the pillows with her glasses on and a magazine in her lap, although the room was still in semi-darkness.

 “Thank you my dear.”

She took the tea and put it on the floating glass shelf which stuck out of the wall beside the bed. “I’m afraid I can’t seem to make the light come on.”

 A small panel of electronics was embedded in the wall above the shelf, and Laura prodded at it hopefully. The television on the opposite wall came to life briefly, some coloured mood lighting flashed on and off, and then finally the blinds whirred upwards letting in the sunlight.

 “Now you can see why I always come into the kitchen for morning tea,” Mrs Patterson said.

 Laura laughed. “It’s the latest thing don’t you know, probably cost thousands.”

 “I much prefer curtains and a bedside lamp.”

 “Me too.”

By eleven Laura was showered and dressed and itching to be off. Mrs Patterson almost had to restrain her.

 “Harry will ring the bell at eleven thirty and he will accompany you.”

 “Does he have to? I’ll look a bit ridiculous with a body guard in Hyde Park in the middle of the day.”

 “Yes he does have to. He can walk a few paces behind you if you insist, and sit at a different table, but he’ll be there, the whole time, and he’ll bring you home too. We are not taking any chances.”

 “Alright, I give in.” Laura wasn’t going to let anything spoil her outing.

 In the end it wasn’t too bad walking from the block of flats to the park with Harry. At least she could be thankful that he wasn’t wearing his hi-vis jacket and hard hat, but instead looked suitably anonymous in jeans and a polo shirt.

 Laura took the opportunity to quiz him about Joseph, finding out a little more about the scaffolding business but not much else. Mr Singer was apparently a very private person, and when Harry in turn asked her how well she knew Joseph, she stammered and quickly changed the subject.

 As they neared the café Harry dropped back and, as promised, found himself a close, but separate table. As Laura settled herself outside in the sun, grateful for the sunhat she’d found in amongst Jeannie’s supplies, he sat down just inside from where he could watch her without looking too suspicious. He pulled out a newspaper and made himself comfortable.

 Rani blew onto the terrace like a tropical breeze, her white jeans dazzling and her flowing peacock blue top fluttering against all the other diners she passed as she pushed her way through to Laura. Her hair was hidden beneath a dramatic black straw hat with a huge brim, and every eye was on her as she sat down. Laura saw Harry staring open mouthed, and when she caught his eye he grinned and shook his head.

 As soon as Rani reached the table a young waiter bustled over to take their order. Funny how he’d been nowhere to be seen when Laura was sitting alone.

 “Black Americano, Perrier, Caesar salad, chips please,” said Rani.

 If the waiter thought this was an odd combination he didn’t show it as he turned to Laura, pen poised.

 “I’ll have the tuna melt and a Diet Coke please.”

 “And I suppose you’d like chips as well?” So he didn’t think much of their choices after all.

 “Yes, thank you I would.”

 He span on his heels and stalked off.

 “What’s with the attitude?” asked Rani, “if you think chips are beneath you don’t put them on the menu.”

 Laura smiled, happy to be with her friend again. “How’s work?” she enquired, “anything interesting happening?”

 “Not much. Olga got her hair cut, looks worse than ever. They’ve decided not to go ahead with the reshelving project in 24A until next financial year. Oh, and I’ve met Tom.”

 “Tom?”

 “Your friend from Boston Spa.”

 “He’s not really my friend.”

 “Whatever. He was down for a course and came in to see you. He was disappointed that you weren’t around I think, said something about doing some more reading you might be interested in.”

 Laura nodded in what she hoped was a non-committal way.

 “But that’s quite enough about work missy. I want to know what’s wrong with you and why you’ve not been there.” Rani sized Laura up, “you don’t look very ill, a bit pale perhaps but that’s pretty normal for you. Look me in the eye.”

 Laura met her friend’s questioning gaze, and the stress of the last couple of weeks almost spilled out as tears pricked and she had to look away.

 Rani’s expression turned instantly from gentle teasing to genuine concern, “Oh Laura, whatever is it? What’s happened to you?”

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Water Water – episode fifty eight

[start at episode one]

Failure…

Jorn knew had to leave the shore and get back into the water. When those fishermen were fully recovered they would surely come back to see if they could find out what had happened to them. But he knew that, unconscious, Arne would not be able to breathe as they travelled, and Jorn didn’t think he had the strength to carry him all the way home. He dragged him across the beach into the shadows of a rocky outcrop and laid him in the water with only his head exposed.

Jorn sat in the shallows close by with this head in his hands, trying to think of what to do next, and he could only think of one, desperate answer. He would have to leave him behind, he could drag him up the coast for a few miles but he had to get back to the Margrave to tell him what had happened.

 But how can I? If I go back alone they’ll probably assume I killed him myself, Jorn thought bitterly, but just as he was steeling himself to do it anyway, Arne slipped under the surface of the water, before emerging again a few seconds later and looking round in a daze, rubbing the side of his head.

“What happened?” he mumbled as Jorn helped him to sit up, “did the men drown?”

“No, they called off the Sirens just in time. I think it was their King who stopped it, or maybe they just thought they’d made their point. They certainly scared those fishermen enough to nearly kill you, and quite what that achieves I don’t know.”

Arne rubbed his face with his hands, “it shows us what they’re capable of.  Did you speak to the King?”

“Mostly Leon, who is his son, but it did no good. There’s nothing more we can do here except get back and warn the Margrave.”

Jorn watched Arne for a moment – he was slumped on the shingle at the water’s edge with his eyes closed. He looked exhausted and in no fit state to make the journey, but they had to leave before either the Sea Mer or the fishermen returned.

Then Jorn looked across the rocks towards the fishing village but there was no sign of movement, yet he sensed eyes upon them, and sure enough when he scanned the bay he saw four shapes in the water, still, watching. He prodded Arne with his foot, wanting to avoid any sudden movements that would let them know he’d spotted them.

“Come on,” he hissed under his breath, “I think Leon and his henchmen are back, we really need to get moving.”

Arne touched his hand to his temple, the bleeding had stopped but his head was pounding, he could barely think straight. He scrambled to his feet, staggered a couple of steps along the waterline and then slumped down heavily again. Jorn was instantly by his side, and spoke urgently under his breath.

“How bad is it? Could you swim if I towed you?”

Over Arne’s shoulder he saw that the shapes in the water were now much closer, three heads broke the surface just a few metres away, still silently watching. Then Leon emerged from the shallows beside them and it was too late.

“So here are the Margrave’s brave messengers, paddling at the seaside.” He beckoned for the others to come out of the water and soon all four surrounded Jorn and Arne.

“You spoke so bravely of revolution when we came to your Gathering and now look at you,” Leon sneered.

Jorn did not respond, he sat with Arne leaning against him and kept his eyes cast down, waiting for Leon’s next move. But while one hand supported Arne the other was feeling among the shingle for something to use as a weapon. The Margrave’s plea for a peaceful outcome echoed in his mind, but when his fingers closed around a rock its sharp edges and solid weight gave him comfort. He turned the rock over and over in his hand until he held it snugly, the small movements imperceptible to the others.

Leon took a step closer to Arne and gave him a small but vicious kick, clearly enjoying showing off in front of his companions. Arne slumped more heavily against Jorn, their heads were almost touching and Jorn wondered if he had consciously moved towards him.

“Arne?” he breathed, not moving a muscle, hoping that Leon would not hear over the sound of the waves on the shingle. Arne responded with a very slight shift in pressure against his arm.

“Perhaps we should give the messengers a message to take back with them? A little reminder of their visit,” Leon was crowing with anticipation.

“Ready?” Jorn whispered, and he sensed Arne breathing heavily for a few seconds as if trying to gather his strength before he felt another tiny nudge. Jorn knew that he could not, would not, give Leon the satisfaction of inking them as he had Laura, however much the Margrave urged peace. His grip tightened around the stone and grabbing Arne with his other hand he leapt to his feet.

“Go!” he shouted at Arne, “Now!” and he pushed him towards deeper water then spun round the other way. Only Leon still faced him down, taken aback by his sudden move the others had retreated a few steps.

“You wouldn’t dare,” taunted Leon, “you lost your nerve at the Gathering.”

The rock was burning in Jorn’s hand, and his anger burned even hotter, but through the white hot fog of fury he still knew that to attack the son of their king would be suicidal. With a cry of rage he hurled the rock past Leon, instantly felling one of the others, and plunged into the water after Arne.

His actions had bought them precious seconds and he quickly caught up with Arne, and almost dragging him along they made their escape. As they waded out into the estuary and then began to swim they felt the swell building. Jorn looked back and in the darkness he could just make out the silhouettes of two of the Sea Mer, standing chest deep in the water. They were at the centre of an angry whirlpool which was shooting waves out towards Jorn and Arne. The water was fizzing with energy and huge breakers were beginning to crash against the shore.

Desperately Jorn pulled Arne along behind him, hoping that they could outswim the force of the waves. At last they reached the open sea and the waters were calm again. They had got away, and for a minute or two they floated on their backs gazing up at the sky as they gathered their strength. This was just as Laura had described it to the Margrave and Arne had confirmed it was a skill that had been used many years ago – generating a pressure to agitate the waters stir up the fish. Arne had said at the time that he thought it was more of a party trick than anything else, but now he was not so sure.

“We should move on,” Jorn said, “can you do it?”

“I think so,” Arne replied, and they started the journey home to face the Margrave and tell him that they had failed.

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Water Water – episode fifty seven

[start at episode one]

night fishingA show of strength

As they stared out across the sea at the moon they saw dozens of heads silently surface, watching to see what would happen as three other shapes rose in front of them. And then it started, ethereal music drifted across the still water and the song began. They turned in horror to the rocks where they had seen the fishermen setting up earlier in the evening. Sure enough the men, five or six at least, had put down their rods and were walking towards the edge of the sea. A dog that was with one of them howled miserably at its master but he heard nothing but the song. Soon they were at the shoreline, with unseeing eyes and expressions of bliss on their faces, drawn inexorably onwards by the Sirens’ call.

 When the fishermen took their first steps into the water Jorn and Arne could wait no longer. Arne stumbled into the shallows to try and save the men and Jorn turned to confront the Sea Mer.

  “Now you see what we can do,” Leon jerked his head towards the fishermen who were already in up their chests, “now will you join us?”

 Jorn knew Leon wasn’t their king, but he was clearly the one in command here, as he had been when they came to the Gathering.

 “If you kill these men, what do you think will happen? They will come after every one of us. Then you will have no chance to survive and neither will we. Is that what you want?”

 “We will rise up against them.”

 “Don’t be so stupid,” Jorn was shouting now, “how many are you – a hundred maybe? You think you are strong by turning the waters, but you can only do that because you have time and you are still hidden. Do you think you will be able to do anything once you are known? It will be the end for us all.”

 He was totally surrounded now, were they going to attack him? Did he have the strength to fight back? But then the crowd parted to allow someone through. From their reaction he could tell this at last was their King, and he came straight to Jorn.

 “I apologise for my son, he feels very strongly.  Please carry my greeting to your Margrave.”

 His words were polite but his eyes were hard.

 “Leon may have acted foolishly with those fishermen, but you must understand we can see no alternative, I cannot let my people die. We will be there when the moon is full.”

 Leon’s hands were clenched into fists, he was clearly furious at his father’s intervention but he kept quiet. Jorn opened his mouth to speak, to try once more, but the King lifted his hand to silence him.

 “I have no more to say on the matter.”

 And with that he was gone, and crowd that surrounded Jorn melted away, even Leon and his cronies seemed to have left. Then Jorn noticed that the Siren song had stopped, and he remembered Arne. He stumbled across the rocks and into a scene of total chaos. The fishermen were staggering about in the shallow water, one was vomiting and a couple were clutching their heads as if in terrible pain. Two others however were no longer suffering and they’d turned on the first person they’d seen to blame for what had happened – Arne.

 Arne had tried to stop the men from entering the water, but in their trance like state they had been strong and unyielding, nothing would hold them as they reached for the music. By the time the Sirens ceased their call, one of the fishermen was fully submerged and Arne swam out to rescue him. He was pulling the man up onto the rocks when the two who had been least affected spotted him. Convulsed with a terrible anger they tore their friend from Arne’s grip and shook him until he coughed and threw up. Then, still in a state of wild confusion, they attacked Arne, believing he was the one who had tried to kill them all.

 Jorn reached him just as he fell, struck on the head by a sharp stone clutched by one of the fishermen. But after lashing out in such a frenzy the man suddenly seemed to recover himself, and the stone fell from his fingers as he stared down with horror at the motionless figure laying in front of him. The other man was holding a large piece of driftwood above his head as if about to bring it down on Arne like a club, but he too dropped his weapon. Jorn put himself between Arne and the two fishermen but said nothing.  The men stood still for a moment, overwhelmed with terror and confusion at the sight of this strange figure before them, standing over the one they now thought they might have killed. They turned and ran, frantically scrambling up the rocks and away from the water as quickly as they could, calling for the other fishermen to follow them.

 In the silence that followed Jorn knelt beside Arne, cradling him in his arms. He was bleeding from the temple where the rock had struck him and he had gone down hard. Jorn became aware of many eyes watching from the water.

 “Are you satisfied now?” he shouted into the darkness, “Is this what you wanted?”  And then they were  

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Water Water – episode fifty six

[start at episode one]

A decision for the Margrave

moon-1146006__340[1]

The days had been dragging for Laura, but for the Margrave they were passing all too quickly, as he counted down the days of the lunar cycle. He had heard nothing more from Joseph, and so he called his Elders together once again, gambling that even those who sympathised with the Sea Mer would not actually want to destroy the Riverways and lose the only home they’d ever known.

 He spoke directly to Jorn, if there was a threat from within it would come from him.

 “We cannot wait any longer Jorn, and there can be no more secrets. Please start by telling us why you have been going to the river so often. Do I have cause to question your loyalty?”

 But it was Arne who spoke up: “I can answer that sire. Jorn wanted to know more about how we used to live, about life in the water, and when the visitors came from the Sea I began to join him.”

 “Join him in what?”

 “We have been teaching ourselves to breathe again.”

 The Margrave’s old eyes opened wide and he leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair.

 “Go on,” he said.

 “That’s all,” Jorn replied quickly. He had told no one, not even Arne, of the other things he’d been teaching himself about the old ways. Arne thought perhaps Jorn did not want to admit that they had yet to fully succeed with the breathing, but he could see that this was not a moment to be coy and spoke up.

 “What Jorn is trying to say is that it has been a slow process. Our bodies are finding it hard to remember, but I think the muscle memory is there, somewhere deep inside us. We just need more time.”

 “Time is the one thing we don’t have,” said the Margrave. “What you have learned so far, would this help you to travel, to go out into the seas and find them before they return? We must try one last time to negotiate.”

 Jorn and Arne looked at each other and nodded in agreement, then Jorn spoke again:

 “We could go, we are able to move faster at least, and to stay down for longer. We know they used the old trade route to come to the Gathering so if we follow that we should intercept them before they reach our waters.”

 The Margrave looked around the table at the expectant faces of his Elders, all eyes were on him, waiting for his decision. There was no alternative, despite his unease he had to trust Jorn, it was their last hope.

 “Then go, now. You have my authority to do whatever it takes to save our people.”

 He saw Jorn’s eyes glitter and gave them one last piece of guidance:

 “You carry my authority, but you also carry my wishes. You know that we are a peaceful people, and I would always, always wish for a peaceful outcome.”

 “Yes sire,” said Arne as he rose from the table, and Jorn echoed him. Then they were gone, and the Margrave was left to wait once more.

 The trade routes linked all the ancient water peoples and hugged the coastlines from inlet to estuary, crossing open sea where the distances were shortest. They were rarely used now, as those few communities that remained dare not venture far from where they were hidden. Arne knew the way though, and they travelled swiftly, still needing to surface periodically to breathe in the air. As they had hoped, it wasn’t long before they were on the trail of the Sea Mer, and then moving cautiously they caught up with them undetected. They found them gathered at a resting place in a bay in northern France where the Somme met the sea.

 Jorn and Arne took shelter among the huge boulders that formed a breakwater along the shoreline, hiding in the shallow waters until night came and they felt safer. At sunset a group of fishermen came and sat on the rocks, casting their lines out into the darkness.

 For the first time Jorn felt unsure. He had sympathised with the Sea Mer initially, then angered them by not following through. But finding them holed up here, waiting silently to come and attack his home, made him see things more clearly. He had been foolish and vain, damaging his relationship with the Margrave and others, and now it was his chance to make amends. Doing so would bring his dream of leadership closer than any act of rebellion. He turned to Arne.

 “It’s time.”

 Arne nodded. “They call their Margrave ‘King’ and he will be with them I’m sure,” he said.

 “Then we must go to the King,” Jorn replied.

 “No need,” came a voice from out of the darkness, and four figures emerged from the inky water.

 Jorn recognised Leon with others from the Gathering and suddenly felt vulnerable, the rocks and the shore behind him, and the Sea Mer between him and the open sea.

 “Have you changed your mind, would you join us now – now the man and the woman are gone and there is no other choice but to rise?” Leon spoke with contempt. Arne and Jorn began to doubt they had any chance of getting him to listen, but they had to try.

 “There must be no rising,” somehow Arne found his voice, “we cannot allow our waters to be destroyed. We will help you to find a new home, but not like this. Please, the Margrave asks you to be patient, to give us more time.”

 “We have waited long enough,” Leon replied, “you know how much time there is left before we send the tide.”

 Jorn and Arne both lifted their gaze to where a sliver of new moon was just starting to appear above the horizon. They knew.

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Water Water – episode fifty five

[start at episode one]

A welcome call

phone-895707_960_720[1]Laura’s phone vibrated then jingled on kitchen counter. Laura ignored it, frowning in deep concentration, then she gave in, and flung her cards down on the table.

“But I still don’t understand, why can’t I play the king?”

Mrs Patterson put down her own cards and smiled patiently across the table.

“Perhaps we should play a different game my dear?”

“No.” Laura tried not to sound too much like a petulant child. “If I’m going to be stuck in here I might as well do something useful, and my father always said that learning to play bridge would be a social asset.”

“But you can’t play just with two, and the saucepan and the jug are not making ideal partners are they?”

“I suppose not,” Laura conceded, and she went to look at her phone. In any case, contract bridge would be of limited use if the city was flooded and they were all facing imminent death by drowning.

The message was from Rani, again. Over the days that she had been hidden in the flat, or imprisoned as it now felt like, Rani had sent lots and lots of messages, and as instructed Laura hadn’t answered a single one of them.

Instead she had tried to make the best of her situation by persuading Jeannie to bring her a laptop. There was no internet in the unfinished block of course, but Bill had provided some sort of signal booster which allowed her to pick up the wifi from one of the cafes in the street below. She had been able to do some more research, and what she’d found had made her feel ever more uneasy. Stories were starting to appear about water quality across the east of England: fish were dying in the Thames for the first time in years and the bathing ponds were still closed. Problems had also been reported in some of the freshwater marshland habitats in the estuaries along the east coast, with real fears growing for their fragile ecosystems. The Sea Mer had said they’d show what they could do, and this must be their doing.

Laura did not discuss what she’d found with Mrs Patterson, she didn’t want to worry her old friend when she was trying so hard to make things bearable in the flat. It had only taken a day or so for her to get Colin and Harry eating out of her hand, and the two security guards seemed to spend as much time running “little errands” for her landlady as doing any actual guarding.

Not that there seemed to be any danger. The two men had neither seen nor heard anything untoward at all, and Laura was beginning to think that any risk to her must have passed –  surely They would be back at sea or wherever it was they came from by now, busy with their scheming?

As for Joseph, not a word from him. At first Laura vacillated between distress and defiance, but within a couple of days she’d told herself that she could simply pretend that nothing had happened between them. This worked for the most part, but she had not been able to bring herself to take a bath again. And at night she found herself standing at the window looking out at the moon, counting down the days in its cycle and carefully ignoring the reflection of the bed in the glass.

The latest text from Rani sounded even more frantic than the last, begging her to get in touch. She decided to appeal to Mrs Patterson one last time.

“Please Mrs P, please can I just call her? We could meet up somewhere safe, somewhere nearby. You can even come with me if you like.”

Mrs Patterson sighed. This had been a daily argument since she’d come to watch over Laura. Her charge was now fully recovered from her ordeal and was going stir crazy in the confines of the flat. She’d never been much of a one for television, and there was a limit to the number of times she could send the guards off to buy or borrow books. She’d even sent Harry over to Elizabeth at the Transport Museum Library – there was no reason now why Laura couldn’t have those books she’d been asking about all those weeks ago. Laura had appreciated the effort and devoured them gratefully, but she’d had enough.

“I’ll think about it Laura,” she said finally.

‘I’ll think about it’ was an improvement on a flat no, Laura said to herself, retreating to her room and the pile of gossip magazines that Jeannie had brought over the day before. She said she only bought them for the customers in the café, but Laura wasn’t convinced. They were full of rubbish, obviously, but after reading enough of them she caught herself actually wondering about what would happen to the soap star and the footballer after the disaster with the doves at their lavish castle wedding (pictures on pages 5 to 25).

She could hear Mrs P talking quietly. Her landlady had acquired a very basic mobile phone of her own, which she treated as if it were booby trapped. It was kept in a Liberty print spectacles case, and plugged in for its ‘charge up’ for half an hour each morning. Laura had never actually heard it ring, let alone receive any messages, but once or twice it had been used to make a call, always when Laura was out of the room.

Mrs Patterson didn’t mention the phone call when Laura emerged from her bedroom at supper time. She poked about in the fridge for a minute or two and about twenty minutes later had produced Spanish omelettes for them both. While they were eating, the mobile phone rang. The unexpected sound startled them both, but by the time the phone had been found in the drawer and taken out of its flowery case, the ringing had stopped.

“Oh dear,” Mrs Patterson said, looking at it with a forlorn expression on her face.

“Were you expecting a call?” asked Laura.

“Yes I think so.”

“Well they’ll probably call back,” she reassured her, imagining, correctly as it turned out, that the caller would guess what had happened and give Mrs P another chance to answer.

When the phone rang again a few minutes later Mrs Patterson held it gingerly in one hand and poked at the keys hopefully with the other.

“Hello?” she said into it eventually.

Laura heard a muffled voice coming from the receiver.

“Yes, I’ll tell her, thank you. Good bye.”

Mrs Patterson inspected the phone to make sure the call had really ended, before putting it back into its flowery case. Then she turned to Laura:

“I understand that you feel trapped in here, and that you are worried about your friend, so I sent a message to the Margrave, to ask his advice.”

“Really?” Things were looking up, thought Laura, “what did he say?”

“He believes that you could arrange to meet Rani, but there are a few caveats.”

“Of course, anything.”

Anything to get out of the wretched flat, even just for a couple of hours.

“You must go in the middle of the day, and meet at a café or other busy place. Sit outside, in the sun, and don’t stay long. No tube so you’ll have to walk there, and do not tell her where you are staying. Does that sound alright?”

“Alright? It sounds bloody marvellous,” and Laura practically skipped out of the kitchen to go and ring Rani.

Rani couldn’t hide her relief when she saw Laura’s number come up on her phone, but she covered it up in her usual style.

“So where have you been hiding yourself stranger? Been building a little love nest with the mystery man perhaps…”

“What mystery man?” bluffed Laura.

“I spoke to him on the phone, he was asking for you by name so you can’t bullshit me.”

“When was this?” Laura gave up any attempts at denial.

“Nearly two weeks ago now. He sounded quite anxious so I’m guessing he’s keen.”

That must have been before he’d found her. Before… but that night hadn’t happened, had it?

“Where the hell are you anyway? I went to your house but it looks like no one’s been there for ages. What’s happened to your lovely landlady?”

“She’s fine, she’s here with me.”

“That doesn’t sound very romantic Laura!”

“Listen there’s no love nest, okay? But I do want to see you and catch up. Can we meet up, maybe tomorrow lunchtime?”

“Great! You know I’ll wheedle all your secrets out within half an hour don’t you? It’s Saturday tomorrow so let’s go somewhere nice, how about Regent’s Park, or I know, what about that new bar that’s opened on the old Paddle Steamer by Hungerford Bridge, it will be lovely on the river.”

Finally Rani paused for breath and Laura could get a word in.

“Not the river, sorry. How about the café in Hyde Park, we can sit on the sun terrace. Midday?”

“Sun terrace? Really? That’s not like you with your delicate complexion! I’ll bring a parasol just in case. See you tomorrow then.”

Rani hung up and Laura sat for a moment replaying the call in her head, then she went back into the kitchen to clear her plans with Mrs Patterson. Relieved to be getting out of the flat at last, she smiled to herself and shook her head at Rani’s interrogation, love nest indeed.

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Water Water – episode fifty four

[start at episode one]

Rani is worried

terraceIt was 4 o’clock on Friday afternoon and Rani was really starting to worry. It was not that unusual for her friend to spend a weekend incommunicado, in fact she’d never known anyone as happy in their own company as Laura. She herself could not bear to be alone – perhaps that’s what came from being the middle one of five and growing up in a house that was always crowded and chaotic.  But it had been well over a week now and not a word. The Witch had sent an email a few days ago saying that Laura was not going to be in and her work was to be redistributed, but when Rani tried to ask what had happened, Olga just snapped back something about Laura’s landlady phoning in sick on her behalf.

She’d tried calling of course, home and mobile, and had sent a selection of increasingly anxious emails, but still there was nothing. Rani hated not having Laura around, nobody there to moan with over coffee and cake, and no one to appreciate her latest hair colour. And now it was almost the weekend again and still she’d heard nothing. At 17.01 precisely she switched off her computer, threw on her new vintage broderie anglaise summer cape and marched out the room with a don’t even think about asking where I’m going expression on her face.

Rani had only been to Laura’s flat a couple of times as they always tended to meet in town, but she remembered where it was, and her adorable landlady too. In particular she remembered the lemon drizzle cake and lavender shortbread that Mrs Patterson had provided for the “girls” as she’d referred to Rani and Laura when they’d joined her for tea. The old lady had even dug out an old silk scarf in a beautiful geometric sixties print and insisted Rani (who had been channelling Mary Quant that day) have it. She smiled at the memory as she reached the steps of the house, but then frowned as she took in the peeling window frames and blistered front door. The house looked shut up, curtains closed and leaflets sticking out of the letter box. That week’s local freesheet had been left on the doormat and pages from it had blown down the worn stone steps and out into the street. Laura would never have left such a mess.

Rani had no compunction about peeping through the letterbox. She pulled out the crumpled leaflets advertising pizza delivery and taxis to the airport and bent down to take a look. The tarnished brass flap was stiff but she was able push it far enough to get a glimpse of a rectangle of floor strewn with envelopes and yet more leaflets. There was definitely no one home, Rani concluded, as she straightened up and stretched her back before tripping over the curled up corner of the worn coir mat and almost falling straight down the steps. An enormous grey cat was soon winding itself round her ankles, but Rani was not in the mood to fall for Brian’s charms and ignored him. She was extracting her mobile from deep within her voluminous green leather bag to try Laura one more time when she crunched straight into someone and almost dropped it again.

“Sorry,” she muttered automatically before looking up to see who she’d collided with. The pavement had been empty when she’d walked out of Laura’s front gate a second ago so where had this man appeared from – this slightly odd looking man in very strange clothes? Rani always noticed an outfit, and this one was rather special. The long overcoat was particularly striking, especially on such a hot evening, and when coupled with a wide brimmed hat that completely shaded his face he looked like an extra from a second rate spy movie.

“Are you looking for someone?” the man said, not moving from where he stood in the middle of the pavement as a hissing and spitting Brian shot past him at high speed with his fur standing on end. Was this guy for real? Perhaps he was one of those re-enactment types who liked to run around town pretending he was a secret agent or something.

“The only thing I’m looking for is the quickest way to get away from you,” Rani retorted, and scooting round him she stalked off down the street. Glancing back she saw he still hadn’t moved and was watching her.

“Fancy dress isn’t really the done thing in Muswell Hill you know,” she called over her shoulder, “not in daylight anyway!” And tossing her head she turned the corner into the Broadway, and headed for bus stop.

It was only when she was sitting comfortably on the top deck of the bus that she began to think how odd the man really had been. Why was he there outside Laura’s flat, was he looking for her too? This did not seem an especially appealing prospect and as the bus groaned into life and chugged past the end of Kings Avenue, Rani peered through the grimy window up Laura’s street. The pavement was empty again, and she tried to shrug off the sense of foreboding that had crept up on her. She sent one last text to her friend and then got out her headphones – she needed some music.

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Water Water – episode fifty three

[start at episode one]

Joseph sets out

rails-253134_1280By the time Laura and Mrs Patterson were sitting down to talk, Joseph was already on his way. He had driven straight home and made sure the van was parked somewhere safe, away from prying eyes and the attentions of traffic wardens. He had a quick shower and made some toast from the last of a sliced loaf he found in the cupboard, washing it down with black coffee made as strong as he could bear. Then he threw a few clothes into a bag and switched off or unplugged all the obvious things before leaving the flat. He didn’t know when he’d be back again.

It didn’t take long to hail a taxi and he sank gratefully into the worn upholstery. The cabbie was chattering on about some discussion on the radio but Joseph wasn’t listening. Physically still at last, his mind began to race, thoughts of the Mer, their threats and his half-baked plan, swirled around in his brain. And in amongst it all the memories of the night before, flashes of Laura crowding out everything else. The more he tried to ignore them the more vivid they became, until eventually he banged his fist against the door of the cab with a growl of frustration as he tried to clear his head.

The driver stopped talking and looked anxiously in the mirror at his fare – the last thing he needed was a nutter in his cab.

“You alright mate?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Bad night was it?”

“Something like that.”

“I’ll put some of my music on, that’ll calm you down,” and the driver prodded his stereo and turned up the volume.

            ‘By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising…’

 Of course, what else would it be? Joseph closed his eyes as Glenn Campbell’s sentimental tune filled the cab. At least it wasn’t far to Kings Cross.

At the station he bought a single ticket, taken aback by the price but with no choice but to pay up. Thankfully there was less than half an hour until the train left, time to buy a sandwich but not time enough to lose his nerve. Only once the train was pulling out of the station, non-stop to York and then onwards to Scotland, did he allow himself to think again. It had to be a real possibility, this idea of his, but could he bear to return there to try and make it work?  He’d soon find out.

He’d thought his memories were hazy, it was so long ago, but standing on the firm sand looking out across the Sound it all came flooding back. She’d been ill for so long, as a seven year old he knew only the frail shadow of a mother who could still summon the strength to hold him tight, but could barely walk a hundred yards. She’d talked so often of returning to her beloved Scotland, and that Easter his father had finally been persuaded to take them.

Joseph had loved it up there. He’d played for hours among the rock pools, finding treasures to show his mother who sat on a folding chair, wrapped up in a thick rug and gazing out at the sea, his father always hovering nearby. They’d only left her for moment or two, perhaps he’d wanted an ice cream, or just to go to the loo, but whatever it was by the time they’d returned she was no longer in her chair. Instead she was in the sea, fully clothed and wading out purposefully away from the shore towards some unseen destination. His father shouted after her but she didn’t turn back. It was already up to her chest when he plunged into the water, and by the time he was waist deep she was gone.

The coastguard found her body the following day. The Sherriff’s report said suicide but when he was old enough to understand, as he was learning about the ‘family business’, his father told him about the Sirens, and how he thought that his mother, weakened by her illness, had been lured to her death.

Today only the low hum of the nearby wind farm sang to Joseph, and after gazing at the sea for an age he knew that there was nothing left to torment him now, he would be able to do this. All that remained then was to get on with it, to try and turn his idea into a reality. But where to begin?

It had started to rain so he retreated to a café with a view of the sea and the golf course. Despite the sudden squall there were still plenty of folk trudging up and down the links in pursuit of their balls. Joseph had never understood the appeal himself, though Cosmo was a big fan and frequently tried to persuade him of its joys. He remained firmly on the side of Mark Twain: a good walk spoiled.

Turning away from the hardy souls out on the course he pulled a battered notebook from his pocket. Once bound in fine leather, the cover was now worn and threadbare and the pages hung loose where the stitching had frayed over the years. It was Joseph’s most precious possession, the one he guarded most vigilantly, and in it were recorded the details of all those who had ever worked as he did. Most were long dead, but the book had been updated sporadically, and there were a handful of active names, scattered across the country. He just hoped that there would still be someone up here who could help him now.

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